Biotech Workforce: Lee County’s Success

June 01, 2021 | Written by: sanford-user

By Bob Joyce, Senior Director, Business Retention and Expansion

It’s hard to believe that one year ago, the unemployment rate in North Carolina was 13.5% and Lee County’s rate was 13.9%. When new figures were released last week, the state’s rate for April 2021 was 5%. County numbers will be released Wednesday.

One interesting piece of data was growth in the state’s workforce. In a year, total private sector employment increased by 426,000 people. The biggest increase, as you would expect, came in the Leisure & Hospitality sector which added back 154,500 jobs. But there were other sectors adding jobs too: Trade, Transportation & Utilities gained 84,100; Business Services added 60,600.  Manufacturing, Lee County’s largest sector, added 36,900 jobs statewide.

What’s the workforce situation going forward? …especially in the biotechnology sector? In a recent report from global management consultants, McKinsey and Company, executives in the life science area suggest that if the industry is to maintain its recent strong growth, it will need to build talent.

As one biotech investor put it, “There is much more capital available than talent.” Many companies expend extra effort to attract and retain executives with experience in biotech, business development, and commercialization. In addition, a third of the executives interviewed by McKinsey think there is a short supply of clinical-development expertise.

The talent pool has been growing in recent years, particularly in the United States, but McKinsey reports that Europe, China, and other regions still behind. To catch up, some companies are targeting the widest possible talent pool by setting up US affiliates. Other biotechs are experimenting with outsourcing models, keeping select talent in-house but looking outside for special capabilities.

Biotech is unlike any other sector. Boosted by advances in science and technology, it attracted record levels of investment through 2020 and into early 2021. The pandemic brought biological science to the attention of everyone. All of this is good news for Lee County.

Our success in recruiting biotech companies Astellas and Abzena, plus gaining a $500 million expansion at Pfizer, was due in large part to our strong regional life science ecosystem. Did you know that we are within 45 minutes of fourteen degree-granting universities? CCCC has partnered with the NC Biotechnology Center, Fayetteville State University and the US Army to recruit retiring military members to biotech jobs (and it’s working!). NCSU’s BTEC Center on the Centennial Campus is a major asset for life science start-ups.

Locally, our amazing quality of life, good schools and reasonable cost of living help us recruit new workers. Our community college and university system provide a pipeline of well-trained employees. So, despite all the buzz about slack in the workforce, we’re in a very competitive position to add more life science companies.